Republican National Convention: Brown Is The New Black?
Though only a minority of Indian-Americans support the Republican Party, they nevertheless made their presence felt at the 4-day national convention held in Cleveland, Ohio, July 18-21.
At least 14 Indian-Americans delegates, elected by their local districts and state party officials, made their way to the Republican National Convention. (See list). The largest number, 6, were from California and one each from other 8 states. A delegate from Washington, D.C. was struck from the rolls and was replaced at the last minute, so only 13 were on the floor for the roll-call vote for Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump. Some other estimates place the number of Indian-American delegates at 16.
Keeping in mind that an overwhelming majority (65 percent) of Indian-Americans lean Democratic, according to a 2014 Pew Research poll, and only 18 percent lean Republican, the number of delegates who made it to Cleveland, amounts to a significant representation in the GOP.
Brown Is The New Black?
In contrast, African Americans, who were an integral part of America since its inception and today number at 42 million or 14.4 percent of the population, going by the 2010 U.S. Census, were represented at the convention by just 18 delegates, according to the Washington Post. While this may not surprise talking heads because Trump has zero or barely 1 percent support from the black community, the ascendancy of Indian Americans in the Republican Party relative to African Americans, appears phenomenal. The 2010 U.S. Census shows Indians, whose numbers rose exponentially only from the mid-1960s, total 2.8 million, or about 1 percent of the population.
This rise of the Indian-American political heft in the Republican Party has gone virtually unnoticed by the mainstream. It is also a paradoxical development considering that the overall representation of minorities at this Republican Convention has declined from previous years.
White Man’s Party?
As one Indian-American Republican attendee at the convention who did not want his name used, said, “It’s still a ‘white man’s’ party.”
A few Indian-Americans and South Asians were propped up by the Republican leadership to give the appearance of diversity at the convention. A Sikh-American from California and an At-large Delegate to the convention Harmeet Dhillon, a critic of Trump, who is now toeing the line party line, gave the invocation in Punjabi on the first day. Pakistani-American Sajid Tarar said a closing prayer on the second day. Businessman Subba Kolla introduced his Virginia delegation and called out the roll-call vote. A 2013 video segment on South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a rising star in the Republican Party, was shown on the first day of the convention.
A speech by a millennial activist twice noted how diverse the party was with the likes of Haley, and former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, a contender for the presidential nomination who dropped his bid last November. Jindal who called Trump a “narcissist” and “egomaniacal” in September, changed his mind this May saying he would vote for the real-estate billionaire.
Haley did made a quick, under-the-radar visit to Cleveland meet her state delegation. “Haley is considered a “rising star” of the Republican Party, someone whose absence on the convention stage has been widely noted after enjoying a speaking slot in 2012,” reported the South Carolina Post & Courier. Outspokenly opposed to Trump’s bombastic rhetoric, Haley, who admonished the billionaire as one of the “angriest voices” in America, and yet was on Trump’s long list for the VP slot, finally relented in a recent MSNBC interview saying she would support Trump come November.
Not all Indian-Americans who came to the convention were Trump supporters. But most will vote for him Nov. 8. At-large Alternate Delegate Dr. Sampat Shivangi from Mississippi was a Jeb Bush supporter. He criticized Trump for what he saw as “anti-immigrant, Islamophobic” statements, and lack of political experience. But, “I support Trump with my reservations,” he said.
Dr. Sudhir Parikh, publisher of Desi Talk, and co-founder of one of the earliest conservative groups, The Indian American Republican Council, says he is still watching and waiting. “Trump has to correct his rhetoric on immigration, on minorities, and in foreign relations arena, on NATO and other issues of national interest. It makes other world leaders uneasy,” Parikh said. “And some of his views do not represent those of the Republican Party,” he added.
In contrast, one Indian-American Republican Party activist and businessman from Illinois, Shalabh ‘Shalli’ Kumar, declared he had donated $898,800 to the Trump campaign.
Man Behind “Lock Her Up”
Indian-Americans made a difference at the convention, not just on the floor of the massive Quicken Loans arena, but behind the scenes as well. The anti-Hillary Clinton theme that dominated the four days, sometimes verging on hysteria with full-throated “Lock Her Up” slogans, was partly engineered by an Indian-American.
Raj Shah, the director of research and deputy director of communications at the Republican National Committee, authored the insider white paper on how to bring Clinton down, churning out one alleged scandal after another over the past year, climaxing in the anti-Hillary fervor at the Convention.
“Obviously it (convention) has got a lot of anti-Hillary messaging which I’ve had a role in,” Shah admitted, “But there’s a lot mixed in. We provide a lot of content that can be drawn upon, and the convention has been a good mixture of those that articulate Hillary Clinton’s weaknesses.”
Shah and his team helped highlight the positive reactions from the more than 10 million viewers who tuned in daily to watch the convention. They helped frame the reactions when someone tripped up at the convention, and there were some.
“Our job is to handle the hot potatoes and find content useful to us and to get that out,” he told News India Times. For instance, after the chilling, non-endorsement speech by Sen. Ted Cruz that threatened to dominate the media coverage next day, Shah and others burnt the midnight oil to highlight the remarks of Vice Presidential nominee, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence; or to focus on the fallout from the partly plagiarized speech delivered by Trump’s wife Melania Trump.
To an extent, Shah said, the unpredictable moments at the convention actually helped the messaging – it was not as scripted as these events usually are and lent excitement and drama to what could have been a boring four days of speeches and acclamations.
While diversity was wanting at the convention, Shah said this was because delegates are not a cross-section of the country, but rather largely picked by county level parties and local activists. Republicans have touted that method as a strength, criticizing what they see as the Democratic Party’s quota allocation system.
“I would like to see more Indian-American delegates, and would encourage them to get involved locally. It’s a cool experience,” Shah said. Donald Trump, as a businessman and business owner, was an attractive candidate for the community, Shah argued. “His message would resonate with Indian-Americans and I hope they tune in.”